San Luigi Gonzaga is the protector of Youth and the Red Cross for the way he gave his life while young helping others during a serious plague in Rome.
Luigi was born fortunate, near Lake Garda in Castiglione delle Stiviere in 1568, because his father was the Marquis of the area appointed by the king of Spain and would have no problem choosing what to do. In fact, Louis was the eldest son and would have been the natural next Marquis.
His father was brought up for power and already when he was 5 years old, dressed him up in armour, training him for war by being with veterans yelling and telling dirty stories. His mother taught him love and charity and brought him to church to pray and thank the lord of what he had. He attended all the most important courts, from Florence to Madrid and played with the sons of other nobles all over Europe.
The sixteenth century is a particular century and when Louis was small, all of Europe was pervaded by the euphoria of victory over the Turks and the Muslims in Lepanto.
The church, however, was still shaken by the disruption of Martin Luther and Calvin, who had highlighted an excess of ‘terrestrial cravings’, and this had created a cultural separation in the West. In this period the Society of Jesus was founded and the Jesuits committed themselves to re-Catholicizing many regions of Eastern Europe.
Between maternal and paternal education, destiny traced its path, and at 7 years Saint Louis began his conversion by praying every day kneeling. At eight years he chose chastity while he was in Spain.
In Mantova he had fallen ill and the doctor had prescribed a fermented bread and water diet, Luigi was inspired to learn to do spiritual exercises and penances.
He became accustomed to penance so much that when he entered the Jesuits, his spiritual father as a penitent commanded him not to do penance!
A special life if one thinks that he had his first communion with Cardinal San Carlo Borromeo and that at 13 he became the page of Prince Diego of Spain, the son of Philip II. Here the great painter El Greco made a portrait of him, very different from the image that Luigi would then have in the iconography of the Christians.
Despite all the pragmatism of European courts, Louis continued in his decision and at 17 he entered the Jesuits in Rome where he studied theology. To do it he fought with his father and renounced his marquis right in favor of his brother telling everyone “I seek salvation, search for it too! You cannot serve two masters … It’s hard enough to save yourself for a lord of state! “
During his Roman period, Luigi became involved in the treatment of the sick, especially for the various infectious diseases that had affected Rome in that period. There was a drought first, then a famine and finally the typhus. The papacy had lost three popes, Sisto V, Urban VII, Gregory XIV.
Luigi was weak in constitution and a few days after he was infected, he died at age 23 and was buried in the beautiful church of Sant’Ignazio in Rome. But his remains are located both in the birthplace of Castiglione delle Stiviere and in Rosolini, near Siracusa.
He was proclaimed Holy in 1726 by Pope Benedict XIII.
At the end, his last letter to his mother encapsulates all the poetry of his life: “I cannot master the way the Lord looks at my small and short work and I am rewarded with eternal rest … consider my departure as a joyous event.”
For this reason, San Luigi has been named a protector of youth and the Red Cross and has been chosen as a protector of many towns including Valmontone.
One last mention: in the United States, Gonzaga University in Spokane was dedicated to him.